On April 8, I sent Blue Virginia interview questions to all Democratic candidates running for the 45th House of Delegates district (Alexandria, south Arlington) seat being vacated by Del. Rob Krupicka. The candidates are Larry Altenburg, Craig Fifer, Julie Jakopic, Mark Levine and Clarence Tong. I told the candidates that I’d post their interviews in the order I received them. The first one I received back, on Monday, was from Larry Altenburg. Earlier this evening, I received responses from Clarence Tong – thanks! As soon as I receive the remaining candidates’ answers, I’ll post them. Finally, please note that the primary for this nomination will take place on June 9, so if you’re a Democrat who lives in the 45th, make sure you vote!
1. Tell us a bit about yourself, and specifically, what in your background and/or temperament makes you the best qualified of the Democratic candidates to represent the 45th House of Delegates district in Richmond.
I am running for Delegate because I strongly believe in and have dedicated my career to public service. I served as a staffer on Capitol Hill, later became an Obama appointee at the Department of Energy, and currently work as a legislative advocate for the Environmental Defense Fund before our home state Senators on climate and other environmental issues.
My wife Alice and I have made a home in the City of Alexandria and have worked to serve our great community. I was elected Chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee, appointed to be a Member of the City’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee (BFAAC), and selected to represent my neighbors on the Board of the North Old Town Independent Citizens Association (NOTICe). I hope to serve our community in a different capacity, as your representative in the Virginia House of Delegates.
I bring a strong background in the legislative process, as well as experience with the complexities of the budget process, and believe that I will be the best advocate for the priorities of the 45th District.
2. What three issues are you most passionate about and why? What specifically have you done to further those issues? What would be the first bill you’d introduce in the House of Delegates?
My campaign is based on the idea that all Virginians should have a fair shot. Whether it is access to affordable healthcare, a responsible energy future good for our environment and our economy, or ensuring that all Virginians have access to high quality educational opportunities, I will fight in Richmond to protect our Democratic values and represent the priorities of Northern Virginians.
Medicaid Expansion: There are currently more than 400,000 Virginians that are unable to access the health care they need, and Republicans in Richmond are standing in their way. The Commonwealth is currently passing up $3.5 million each day for the next fiscal year, and an estimated $4.5 million every day in the following fiscal year. Refusing to expand Medicaid in Virginia is both irresponsible from a health safety perspective and also from a fiscal perspective. Just last week, the Republican-controlled legislature of Montana passed a bill to expand Medicaid to their Democratic Governor for his signature. If elected to be your Delegate, this would be the first bill that I would take on because if Montana can pass Medicaid expansion, so can we. Virginia deserves better.
Environment & Clean Energy: Having served as an Obama appointee at the Department of Energy and currently as a legislative advocate at the Environmental Defense Fund, I plan to leverage my background to promote sustainable energy development and attract clean energy jobs to Virginia. There are tremendous opportunities in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies, as well as leading technical expertise and academic research institutions in Virginia. This is good for the environment and good for our economy.
Access to Education: Having access to a high-quality education is a key to social and economic mobility for all Virginians and Americans. This begins with expanding early educational opportunities. Universal Pre-K will enable Virginia’s next generation to have a better opportunity to succeed in grade school, and achieve their dreams after graduation. However, ensuring access to a high quality education for the next generation does not end there. Virginia is home to some of the most respected public universities in the country, but too many are being priced out by tuition increases. For instance, the cost of attending the University of Virginia will increase by 11 percent for this falls incoming class. I strongly support President Obama’s efforts to make community college free and would endeavor to keep our public universities affordable for all Virginians.
3. How would you describe yourself ideologically – “progressive,” “moderate,” “liberal,” or something else? How does your record of votes, endorsements, employment, and other activities reflect your political ideology?
I am proud to call myself an Obama Democrat. The reason for this is a reflection of some of our President’s most important policy positions and core values with my own.
President Obama’s greatest accomplishments have been restoring our economy, passing landmark healthcare reform, pioneering an aggressive climate change policy, and demanding that Congress act on affordable higher education. My priorities in the General Assembly are to fight to expand Medicaid, work with Virginia businesses to create clean energy jobs, and ensure that our public universities are affordable for the next generation.
It was an honor to serve the Obama Administration at the Department of Energy and I am proud to have worked for a President who has pursued aggressive action on climate change, healthcare, and education.
4. Who is your favorite and who is your least favorite current Virginia politician and why?
I admire our current Senate delegation Tim Kaine and Mark Warner for representing Virginians well, supporting Democratic ideals, but finding ways to seek common ground with those across the aisle.
5. If you had been in the House of Delegates at the time, would you have voted for a) HB 2313, the comprehensive transportation package passed in 2013; b) repeal of Virginia’s estate tax, which is costing our state around $130 million a year in order to benefit a few hundred of the wealthiest Virginians; c) the 2011 redistricting bill HB 5001, which gerrymandered the state and helped to lock in a Republican majority in the House of Delegates for the rest of the decade; or d) the 2014 and 2015 ethics reform packages, which many (myself included) have criticized as extremely weak, possibly even a step backwards in the case of the most recent “reforms.”
a) Yes, transportation funding to NOVA communities is critical to strengthening infrastructure for our region.
d) No, I believe we need to have stronger ethics reform.
6. What is your vision for Virginia’s energy future? Do you support any of the following: offshore oil drilling, natural gas “fracking,” new natural gas pipelines (e.g., Mountain Valley Pipeline, Atlantic Coast Pipeline) uranium mining, new coal-fired power plants, mountaintop removal coal mining? If not, what will you do to fight against these things, and to fight for a healthy environment, energy efficiency, and renewable power?
We need to promote sustainable energy development that is good for the environment and good for the economy. This includes embracing the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and maximizing the use of renewable energy and efficiency in Virginia’s energy mix.
My wife and I live less than a mile away from a recently shutdown GenOn coal fired plant. It took eleven years to shut it down through community efforts and we need to clean up the site before it can have a productive use in the community. This is just one example of the challenges Virginia faces as we move to a clean energy economy. These efforts will not only bring long lasting jobs in the clean energy sector, but also jobs in the short term as we partner with businesses to clean up from contaminated fossil fuel energy locations. With my background in environmental advocacy, I am especially well equipped to face these challenges head on, and move Virginia forward.
I am committed to building a clean energy future for Virginia, and oppose offshore oil drilling, natural gas “fracking”, uranium mining, mountaintop removal coal mining, and especially new coal-fired plants. While I am personally skeptical about new natural gas pipelines, I am open to hearing about their economic rationale, environmental impacts, and safety record.
7. Yes or no answers. Do you support: a) a strongly progressive tax system, including a reasonable estate tax on the wealthy; b) a “Dream Act” for Virginia; c) allowing gay couples to adopt; d) closing the “gun show loophole” and taking other commonsense gun measures; e) raising the gas tax and/or instituting a carbon tax (revenue-neutral or otherwise)?
8. Given that the 45th House of Delegates district is a solid “blue” district, and thus a “safe seat,” it is crucial that whoever is elected has a plan to help elect Democrats – preferably progressives – across Virginia. That includes fundraising, organizing volunteers, and maximizing turnout in the 45th district for statewide and Congressional elections. Do you agree with this vision for the Delegate from the 45th district, and if so, what exactly is your plan to accomplish it?
As Chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee, party building is an issue close to the heart. During my tenure as Chair, I have sought to bring more Democrats into the fold and started a Blue Virginia initiative to support statewide candidates as well as General Assembly candidates in swing Districts.
For the past two years, the General Assembly has been at an impasse over Medicaid expansion, and the challenge is no longer about policy differences. It is purely political. If there were more Democrats in the House of Delegates, Republicans may feel more comfortable to cast the right vote, rather than resorting to ideological grandstanding.
If elected to represent the 45th District, I would seek to continue our work to build the party not just in the 45th, but across the state. Recruiting high quality candidates and raising the necessary funds to communicate their message and win elections.
9. Do you agree or disagree that Richmond is broken – for instance, the tremendous influence of money, lobbyists and corporations (e.g., Dominion Virginia Power, car title/payday lenders) on legislation – and needs major ethics reform? More broadly, if elected to the House of Delegates, would your general attitude be more “go along, get along” with this system or to “shake things up?” Please be as specific as possible in your answer. For instance, would you support campaign finance reform that sharply curtails the power of corporations, lobbyists, and special interests?
Unfortunately today in Richmond, power is imbalanced in favor of corporate and wealthy interests. Lobbyists in Richmond hold clout and retain institutional memory, while part-time legislators are only provided with limited funding for staff to do important work for their constituents.
The Dominion bill in the past session was a clear example of when a leading state utility was able to assert its considerable clout at the expense of the ratepayer, and in the General Assembly I would have voted against this bill.
Our commonwealth needs campaign finance reform that helps to equalize the playing field for all Virginians that want to be heard and access their state government. I would be a supporter of campaign finance reform in Richmond in order to stand against powerful, moneyed special interests.
10. Please tell us how you would stand up to party leadership, and even to a Democratic governor, if you believed that they were wrong about an issue and/or that it would hurt the 45th district.
Elected representatives should be accountable to their constituents first and I would endeavor to serve as an effective advocate for the residents of the 45th District. While I believe maintaining party loyalty is important, especially as Democrats in the House of Delegates are the minority caucus, it should not come before representing the values and opinions of the constituents.